I picked Tony Riddle up from Bewley’s Hotel yesterday morning and drove south back to Glendalough for a long day of drilling, discussion, brainstorming and even a bit of running, a pint of Guiness (hey, natural living or not he flew over the whole way from London!) and plenty of good food including Aoife’s recently acquired skill in gluten-free baking (banana cake and sticky toffee pudding, in case you are curious).
We covered plenty of subjects during the drive, the scenic route down through Enniskerry and past Djouce allowing more time, inspected a few sites and ran through some feedback from some of our runners who have been working away but are not yet out completely out of the woods injury-wise. Why was this?
A starting point
My own journey with Tony Riddle’s injury prevention and treatment model based on the natural movement principles of such notable names as George Hebert, Joseph Pilates, Nicolas Romanov and Dudley Morton, among others, began in Gloves Boxing Club with an intensive 4 hour session in October. Early results were impressive: I returned to running within a month and by January trained normally. This year obviously has been a complete success, running every day, and plenty of PBs with very little discomfort and no recurrence of previous injuries.
Yet, things weren’t yet perfect, and the next step of the journey was ChampionsEverywhere’s first “natural movement for injury prevention and performance” workshop. During a very content-packed 16 hours, both I and all the attendants learned much more about Tony’s method and it became clear that while I had fixed the major problems with my posture, I still made some serious technical errors which would eventually see me back in the treatment room. My training tolerance had increased, but to truly blossom as a runner and remove all risk of future injury, the next set of faulty movement patterns had to be addressed.
So why was this? Shouldn’t one workshop or one session fix it all? No, as we learned, yesterday, it is a journey and you need a to “revert to your guide” every now and again to ensure you are still on the right track. Even Luke Skywalker had to go back one last time to see Yoda for advice right? (for the nerds, yes I was disappointed when Tony never said the line “the technique is strong in you young Borg, but you are not a movement master yet…”
Re-assessment on the kitchen floor!
“Thank God, it’s a sturdy floor”, sighed Aoife as I crashed against it, jumping off our Reebok step and landing slap-bang on my full foot, heel included, Tony smilingly shaking his head.
I had happily been jumping from step straight into a squat amazed at my own fluidity and the feeling of relaxation it gave me before each run. But there was a problem: I was teaching my body to become better at heel-striking having misunderstood the landing phase and not getting my posture right during the movement.
“Doing one perfect movement is better than doing tons of incorrect ones,” Tony reminded us, a difficult thing for runners to accept so wedded we are to miles, reps, and splits. When it comes to movement, only quality counts initially. Quantity follows perfection, or near-to-perfection, but not prior to such skill level.
Tony had Aoife and I show him our full routines right there on our nice wooden floors with the splendid view to Glendasan in the background and found several errors in our execution of most of the drills. This was not a slap in the face but rather to be expected. Like running, because each drill is a full movement, and not static, it is essentially a “macro-skill” consisting of a number of “micro-skill”. Every person interprets what they hear, see and read slightly differently, so both Aoife and I got a few details wrong at the “micro-skill” level and this meant the macro-skill (the drill) did not do for us what is was intended to do. For example, during my “swan dive” or “the rocker” drill, my thoracic spine extension was not pronounced enough and this problem also showed in several other drills were my brain, trying to be relaxed and loose in the knees, actually collapsed back into a bucket.
Sunset at the Upper Lake
To get maximum value out of this “intervention”, we took a break after the first line of corrections, went for lunch in the Glendalough Hotel before spending most of the afternoon looking at our big plans for the future as well as video-analysis. Towards the late afternoon, we ran through all the drills again before embarking on a run to show Tony how glorious the Upper Lake looks at sunset. While down there, we learned a few new drills to do barefoot or in our VivoBarefoot shoes on the tarmac. I took a lot from this, as some of the drills here went to the very heart of adaptations I struggle more to comprehend: as I still have a tendency to execute the pull-off incorrectly and add in the extraneous movement of “pushing” the leg back in the ground, undoubtedly a major factor in previous injuries, not to mention metabolically wasteful.
Running back, Tony kept one-upping us by racing ahead (he did claim to be cold!), and I can’t help but think I’d love to see the guy race! Time flew by going through the next few things, which included showing me a great dynamic push-up routine to add some upper body conditioning into my routine that does not conflict with what I’m teaching my mind for running. It looked challenging but impressive and opened up to some real “show-boating” movements that Tony demonstrated in the narrow confines of our entrance corridor. The night finished with a good bottle of red, my own attempt at a healthy green curry with turkey and the afore-mentioned sticky toffee pudding!
We now have a 72 hour window to really make the best of all the feedback, we’ve done our first session this morning already and I am just about to start a second run-through before going for a run. Then this evening I want to do it again. Over the next two days I’ll have to keep rekindling the fire actively so that the new inputs stick. I don’t think I’m particularly slow (Tony can comment and disagree!) so to me it’s important to get everyone who is now working off these drills in a position to receive regular feedback until they have the quality of their movement down to a tee and can move on to more advanced, fully performance focused, approach. ChampionsEverywhere will announce the topics for the next June workshop next week and then talk about the upcoming plans and how the future will look for this injury prevention model. This will be the first step as both Day 1 and Day 2 will be very relevant even to those who already did the first course and we have built out the day in a way that allows you to do either one or both, as suits the person’s time best.
The injury history
To add a post-script: it feels like a long time ago that I was the typical novice runner who after the obligatory 12-18 month honeymoon period of racing regularly and making every mistake, yet getting away with it, I posted desperately on forums to find “magic bullets” to bring me back. I tried the majority of remedies over the period, except the truly desperate such as cortisone and surgery. I thank myself that I always valued my body too much to let anyone do that to it.
I think this blog, if you read back far enough, shows the story of a “quest for the truth” both in respects to performance and to injury-prevention. A journey like that never ends, because there is always something new to learn, but “the game has changed” so to speak. Instead of looking for answers and writing about “the latest “ting””, the future will be about the harder task of bringing the solution out there, observing, prescribing, evaluating and developing. And that’s a good thing, to be an athletics coach but not feel helpless in the face of injury, and to have the opportunity to develop a model that combines injury prevention and performance.
A bit of secrecy has to remain at this stage, as we have some balls in the air, but looking forward to sharing our plans and vision over the coming months.